Wednesday, February 15, 2017

And You Wonder Why They Can't Read


Someone asked on Facebook the other day at what age one should get a cell phone for their child. That got me thinking how different parenting is today than when we were rearing our children. Back then the big questions were how much time kids should be allowed to watch television or play computer games. Today, with a smart phone and the right cellular package, a child can not only watch videos and play games, they can also potentially access all manner of both helpful and unhelpful data, some of which could be deadly. Thus, it is wise to consider at what age a child should have his own phone.

However, I don't think the problem is at what age to let them have one, but rather whether or not they need one at all. We could sit here all day debating the good, the bad, and the ugly of 24/7, handheld Internet access, but that isn't really the issue. If given full reign, it would have been possible for children of past generations to also obsess around the clock on the screen distractions of their day. The real problem is the distraction of the Internet and its dumbing down effect on the brain.

Before home computers came along, television was the big distraction. Consequently, for the first few years of our children's lives, we decided not to have one at all. We got news from listening to the radio and from interaction with others outside our home. School and play times were rich in inspiration and imagination. Without screen distractions, books were a big draw, both for cuddle time and individual exploration. I believe that is one reason our children are such prolific readers today. Their foundation for learning wasn't hijacked by someone thinking for them through moving pictures and sound.

Reading is hard work. You have to decipher the words, understand them in context, and imagine what they are portraying. Even books which do not tell a story evoke connecting images and examples in our minds. It's how we develop comprehension. But, you have to concentrate in order to do that. Excess screen time seems to keep the mind constantly wandering off to what has been seen and heard rather than what is immediately being presented in print. Yet, reading content online is not much better.

By its very nature online reading is meant to be quick. Just the volume of the available words necessitates scanning and partial reading. Yet, reading that way too much could end up with us not being able to concentrate on the printed page. Books aren't written like blogs. In good writing, the first sentence is meant to present the concept of the paragraph. The sentences which follow it expand and explain the concept in more detail. Then the last sentence connects that paragraph with the next paragraph. You can tell when a book is well written: it has structure and flow. A well-written blog, on the other hand, presents bits and pieces for you to grab and take with you. You can't read a book like a blog. It won't make sense.

And that is one reason why I believe so many children are having trouble reading. If you want good readers, you must consider more restricted phone/screen use.

Thus, I would have to give counsel to the parent wondering about giving their child a phone to not do so unless it is for emergency use only. Yet, even if a phone really is necessary, one with no data plan would be a good start. Also, having a phone or phones only for temporary use might be a good idea, say, to call and let you know when practice is over.

Or how about walkie talkies? Remember those? We used to use them while shopping as a family and when we split up on walking trails. We even communicated between vehicles when we took separate cars on trips.

(I know; I know. No self-respecting kid is gonna use a walkie talkie these days.)

In any case, for the sake of the literacy of future generations and the health and well-being of well-rounded, successful adult children, I hope parents today will reconsider how often they are allowing their children to have screen time of any kind, but especially their own cell phones.